By Adam Bunch


BLUE RODEO’S LOST TOGETHER

By the time this week rolled around in 1992, Blue Rodeo had already released three full-length albums. But Lost Together, which dropped on August 4 of that year, would be hailed as the group’s greatest record yet. It was filled with hit singles, including “Flying,” “Rain Down On Me” and the title track, that helped push sales of the LP all the way up to double platinum in Canada; fans scooped up more than 200,000 copies.

It was the last time that keyboardist Bob Wiseman would appear on one of the band’s albums, as he headed off to pursue his own wildly successful solo career. However, Blue Rodeo’s popularity would keep on building. Their next record, Five Days in July, would come out the very next year and sell three times as many copies as its predecessor.

Seven more studio albums would follow before the members of Blue Rodeo were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Another one is expected this fall.

 

MAYNARD FERGUSON BLOWS OUT THE OLYMPIC FLAME

Maynard Ferguson was no stranger to the spotlight. The native Montrealer (and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee) is considered to be one of the greatest trumpet players of all time. In a career that spanned an unbelievable eight decades – from the swing era of the 1930s all the way through the rise of rock ’n’ roll and into the new millennium – Ferguson played on the world’s most famous stages, on its most popular television shows and on the soundtracks to some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. He was a familiar name not only in Canada, but in England and the United States, too.

Still, the brightest spotlight Ferguson ever played under might very well have come on this week in 1976. The closing ceremony for Montreal’s Olympic Games was held at the Big O on August 1. At the end of an elaborate spectacle involving hundreds of performers, Ferguson appeared on stage in a white suit, trumpet in hand. He played “Pagliacci” as the Olympic flame dimmed behind him, symbolically blowing it out. His performance was seen by millions of people all around the world – that closing ceremony earned the highest television ratings until Beijing’s in 2008.

 

THE BIRTH OF ANTOINE GÉRIN-LAJOIE

It was on August 4, 1824, that Antoine Gérin-Lajoie was born in the province we now know as Quebec. That was 189 years ago. He would grow up to become a writer and reporter, librarian, translator and civil servant. He’s best remembered, though, for something he did while he was still in school. That’s when he wrote one of the most important and popular folk songs in Canadian history: “Un Canadien errant.”

He wrote the song just a few years after the Rebellions of 1837, when Canadian rebels in Quebec and Ontario tried to overthrow the British in favour of democracy and free elections. The revolution failed. Many of the rebels and their supporters were hanged or exiled without trial. “Un Canadien errant” tells the story of one of those exiles who longs for a chance to return home to his friends and family. It soon became an anthem for Canadians who believed in true democracy and, more recently, for any homesick Canadian travelling abroad.

The song had something of a revival in the 1960s, thanks to a popular cover by the folk duo (and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductees) Ian & Sylvia. Since then, it’s been recorded by everyone from Leonard Cohen (another member of the Hall of Fame) to Nana Mouskouri to Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. It was even used as the Canadian theme music for the video game “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandigeo?”


By James Sandham

As this sweaty weather drags on, I find that I’ve been reflecting more and more on the lovely week I spent at the cottage, flipping through the photos we took and generally just pining away to be back there again.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of Loudon Wainwright III, who happened to figure prominently on our cottage playlists. I’d never really gotten into him before, but it turned out that his particular brand of country-infused folk was just the ticket for whiling away lazy days by the lake, having barbecues or just sitting by the Saugeen River while watching the boats go by.

Subsequently, when I got back home, I decided I’d find out a bit more about him. I knew he was the father of Rufus and Martha Wainright, so I’d always assumed he was a Canadian. Wrong. Turns out that the marriage that spawned those famous offspring – to the late Québécois chanteuse Kate McGarrigle – was a relatively short-lived segment of his life and took place mainly outside of Canada anyway, in New York City, where he and McGarrigle were both part of the city’s burgeoning 1970s folk scene. So much for the Canadian connection!

That wasn’t the only thing I found out about Loudon Wainwright, though. To my surprise, I discovered that he was also a successful actor and had achieved early fame on television as Captain Calvin Spalding, the “singing surgeon” on “M*A*S*H.” He has also appeared in a number of films, including small parts in such big-name productions as The Aviator (starring Leonardo DiCaprio), The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, for which he also composed some of the music, along with Joe Henry.

Wainwright’s main claim to fame, however, remains his Grammy Award–winning music. He’s released over 20 albums in his 40-plus year career and has carved out a distinctive niche in the folk music scene.

I think what draws me to his songs is their lyrics. While their rhyme structure is often simple – almost in a playfully childish way – they are also witty and insightful. A lot of his songs are also just plain funny – to wit, the song “Rufus is a Tit Man,” which is about his son breastfeeding.

But his best song – at least, as far as summer goes – has to be “The Swimming Song,” which captures the cottage spirit perfectly. So that’s what I’ll leave you with, in the form of a fan video made by my wife. It’ll probably leave you pining for the cottage too.

Southampton from The Farmer’s Only Daughter on Vimeo


By Adam Bunch

Little Caesar & The Consuls Hit The Charts

Little Caesar & The Consuls were one of Canada’s very first rock ’n’ roll bands. They formed in Toronto all the way back in 1957 and quickly made a name for themselves on the high school dance circuit. That was thanks in part to their teenage guitar phenom, Robbie Robertson. His distinctive, raunchy playing would have a profound influence on the young musicians who saw him perform at their school dances in those early days – and it’s Robertson, more than anyone else, who gets credit for developing the gritty “Toronto Sound” that swept through the city in the 1960s. For the next decade, Yorkville and the Yonge Street strip would be full of guitarists trying to sound like him.

Robertson wasn’t with Little Caesar & The Consuls for very long, though. He would soon join another one of the city’s most popular early rock acts: Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks. A few years later – after leaving Hawkins, meeting Bob Dylan and re-naming themselves The Band – the former Hawks would become one of the most famous rock groups on Earth. They were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989.

Even without Robertson, Little Caesar & The Consuls made a mark on the Canadian music scene. They had a string of hits, including a cover of “(My Girl) Sloopy,” which was in the top 10 of the CHUM Chart during this week in 1965.

*****

“Takin’ Care of Business” in the Summer of ’74

Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO) formed more than 40 years ago, in the wake of Randy Bachman’s departure from The Guess Who. Decades later, the band’s biggest hit is still a staple of radio station playlists and summer barbecues all over the country. But it was never more popular than it was during this week in 1974. That’s when “Takin’ Care of Business” sat atop the CHUM Chart.

The song would spend 15 weeks on the chart and become one of the defining songs of the summer of 1974, sharing the airwaves with other new hits such as “I Shot the Sheriff” by Eric Clapton, “Waterloo” by ABBA, “Band on the Run” by Wings and “Sundown” by Gordon Lightfoot. Even The Guess Who got in on the act with “Clap for the Wolfman.”

It actually could have been two hits for The Guess Who, as Bachman originally wrote “Takin’ Care of Business” for them. It was called “White Collar Worker” back then and it had a different chorus. Burton Cummings refused to record it, though, dismissing it as a ripoff of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer.” After Bachman left the band and started BTO he made some changes to the song – including a new, catchier chorus – and turned it into a No. 1 hit.

Bachman was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as a member of The Guess Who in 1987.

 

The Birth of Maureen Forrester

On July 25, 1930, one of Canada’s greatest opera singers was born. Maureen Forrester grew up in Montreal, the daughter of British immigrants. They weren’t a rich family; she was forced to drop out of school at the age of 13 in order to get a job. But through it all, she kept singing: in choirs, in church and eventually on the stage.

By the time Forrester was in her mid-20s, she was ready to make her concert debut. It came in 1957 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of one of the most revered conductors of the 20th century: Otto Klemperer. Before long, Forrester had established herself as one of the most talented contraltos in the world. She sang on five different continents by the end of her career, which lasted for decades.

Still, Canada always had a special place in her heart. Forrester spent years serving as the chair of the Canada Council for the Arts and she made sure to perform work by Canadian composers, bringing their talent to the attention of the rest of the world. She was made a companion of the Order of Canada in 1967, the very first year that honour was created, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1990.


By James Sandham

I don’t know if a week at the cottage has just done my head in or what, but lately I’ve been in the mood for music from the ’80s. Songs that once struck me as just plain… well, stupid… now have a certain luster. They’re fun, flippant, frivolous and… uh, festive?

Before I get carried away with attempts at alliteration (there it is again), perhaps I’d better just cut to the chase. So without further ado, let’s take a trip back to the decade of big hair, padded shoulders, neon – and some of the most awesome tunes around.

Eddie Murphy – “Party All the Time”

Oooooh yeah. Can you feel that? That is the ’80s coursing through your eardrums and right into your bloodstream. Few things encapsulate the music of the decade more succinctly than this song by this man. I mean, Eddie Murphy was practically synonymous with the 1980s, a master of film, standup and, with “Party All the Time,” of radio hits as well. While, admittedly, much of his other musical output didn’t come across as successfully as this song, don’t discount him yet. Did you know he’s back behind the mic? This time rocking a reggae track with none other than Snoop Dogg’s latest incarnation, Snoop Lion!

Eddie Murphy feat. Snoop Lion – “Redlight”

*****

Lionel Richie – “All Night Long”

OK, back to the business at hand: ’80s hits. If there’s one hit-maker/’80s icon who can rival Eddie Murphy, it would have to be Lionel Richie. I mean, listen to this song. Are you kidding me?! This is such a crazy fusion of genres – calypso, pop, EZ rock, traditional African drumming – yet it works, and it works beautifully. Not to mention that dancing. This is what the ’80s was all about: possibility, positivity and pastels (damn, there’s that alliteration again). Definitely a classic.

*****

a-ha – “Take On Me”

Now let’s break it down a bit with a slower ’80s jam courtesy of Oslo, Norway’s a-ha. I can’t get enough of the video either – this was cutting edge for its time and at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards it was nominated for eight awards, winning six: Best New Artist in a Video, Best Concept Video, Most Experimental Video, Best Direction, Best Special Effects and Viewer’s Choice. It also got a nomination that year for Favorite Pop/Rock Video at the 13th American Music Awards. Interesting fact: a-ha performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in 1998 before going on to record four more studio albums in 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2009, the last of which went platinum in Germany. Who knew these guys were still around?!

*****

Kim Carnes – “Bette Davis Eyes”

Alright, if we’re talking ’80s slow jams, there’s no way we can’t include this gem. I gotta say, I’m not a huge fan of the rest of Kim Carnes’ catalogue, but on the power of this song alone I am a fan of hers for life. I don’t know what this says about me, but I could probably just listen to this one on repeat for… well, a while. Quite a while. It has been done.

*****

Kim Mitchell – “Go for a Soda”

Last of all, let’s round off our list with a little homegrown ’80s talent. I’m speaking, of course, about Kim Mitchell, a.k.a. the soundtrack to all of my in-laws’ backyard summer patio parties and also the subject of one of the Trailer Park Boys’ best lines ever. Let’s all just take a moment to bask in its glory.


By David Ball

I’m a fan of most music genres and styles, and jazz is no exception. (Exceptions include drum circles and primary school band recitals).

The Newport Jazz Festival, one of the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and the first to take place in the United States, made its debut on July 17, 1954. And talk about kicking things off with a big BANG! The annual summer event held in the historic Rhode Island town premiered with one of the greatest lineups ever assembled in any genre. I don’t want to undersell the awesomeness, so here is the entire lineup, in order of appearance.

Newport Jazz Festival 1954 program

Saturday: Eddie Condon; Modern Jazz Quartet (featuring the “lightweight” ensemble: Milt Jackson, Kenny Clarke, Percy Heath and Horace Silver); Oscar Peterson Trio (the piano great’s legendary backing band consisted of Herb Ellis and Ray Brown); Billie Holiday (the iconic singer’s self-titled hit album, with Peterson on piano, was released a few months prior to her Newport appearance); Dizzy Gillespie Quintet; and Day 1 capper The Gerry Mulligan Quartet (a fantastic talent to be sure, but methinks the puffy-cheeked trumpet phenom Gillespie should’ve been the closing act).

Dizzy Gillespie @ Newport Jazz Festival, 1954

Not to be outdone, Sunday’s bill was equally impressive: Tribute to Count Basie (featuring trumpet pioneer Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Vic Dickenson, Philly Joe Jones, Milt Hinton and Teddy Wilson); Oscar Peterson Trio (the Canadian Music Hall of Famer and 2013 inductee onto Canada’s Walk of Fame was one of jazz’s hottest young lions in 1954, so it makes perfect sense to book him twice!); Johnnie Smith; Dizzy Gillespie Quintet; Bill Harris; George Shearing Quintet; Erroll Garner (with Philly Joe Jones and Milt Hinton); Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz; Gene Krupa Trio; and Newport 1954’s final performance by Ella Fitzgerald.

Duke Ellington (left) with George Wein and Erroll Garner @ Newport Jazz Festival, 1954

The Newport Jazz Festival, referred to as “the grandfather of all jazz festivals,” was founded by renowned impresario George Wein. Nearing its 50th anniversary, the event has played host to scores of celebrated performances over the years by leading and aspiring talents in both jazz and blues. Some landmark appearances include Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.

*****

Neil Young and his manager Elliot Roberts formed their own indie label, Vapor Records, based out of Santa Monica, California, on July 18, 1995.

The background information on the company is a little light – make that a LOT light – and perhaps purposely so. For example, all I could find in regards to Vapor Records was its brief mission statement (“We are the sum of our parts. Please check out the music of our bands to understand what words can’t explain.”) and even briefer company overview (“We actually like the music we put out!”). That being said, some of the artists on the rock legend’s tiny label are not insignificant and speak to both quality and eclecticism.

Here are some of the acts that are under the Vapor umbrella: Tegan and Sara (the JUNO Award–nominated twin singer-songwriters from Calgary have produced five albums for Vapor, including 2013’s Billboard Top 5 hit Heartthrob); Spoon; Jonathan Richman (the ex–Modern Lovers front man has worked with Young and Roberts’ company since 1996); Vic Chesnutt; Everest; Pegi Young (Neil’s equally gifted sister); Victoria, B.C.’s Jets Overhead; and Neil Young himself, with the film soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s masterful 1995 psychological western, Dead Man (Native-Canadian character actor Gary Farmer steals every scene he’s in, which is saying something given he shares the screen with Johnny Depp, Robert Mitchum and John Hurt).

Tegan and Sara’s Heartthrob peaked at No. 3 on Billboard’s album chart in 2013

Pitchfork gave this Jonathan Richman 2010 LP from Vapor Records a 7.8 rating, which is indeed impressive given that the reviews from this influential hipster music website can sometimes be harsh.

Neil Young’s experimental instrumental score is one of the highlights of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film, one of the best psychological westerns ever made, right up there with There Will Be Blood, High Noon, William Wellman’s The Ox-Bow Incident, 3:10 to Yuma (meaning the the 1957 Glenn Ford original) and Anthony Mann’s anti-hero epics starring James Stewart (The Far Country, Bend of the River, Winchester ’73 etc.).

*****

Archeologist Ivan Turk unearthed the world’s oldest known musical instrument in Slovenia’s Indrica River Valley on July 18, 1995.

The Neanderthal relic is believed to be between 43,000 and 67,000 years old and is made out of a bear bone with four artificial holes carved into its length. Canadian musicologist Bob Fink stated in a 1997 essay that the instrument, dubbed the Divje Babe flute, could have been used to play four notes of a diatonic scale (eight notes and seven pitches and a repeated octave). No doubt music lessons, even waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back then, were still pretty expensive.

Divje Babe flute artifact (dated 45,000 B.C.)

Bob Fink’s interpretation of an intact Divje Babe flute

Interesting side story: Also discovered in the same cave where the artifact was found are wall drawings depicting a man wearing animal skins playing the Divje Babe flute in front of a woman (perhaps his wife or mother), who appears to be telling him to, loosely translated from early Neanderthal: “SHUT UP!!!”

*****

Surprisingly, this next song was never the theme song for any of these noted sleight-of-hand tricksters: Criss Angel (he’s more into metal, makeup and tattoos), David Blaine, David Copperfield, Canada’s Doug Henning, or the greatest of them all: Arrested Development’s Gob Bluth.

“Do You Believe in Magic,” the first-ever single by New York City–based folk-rock quartet The Lovin’ Spoonful, was released on July 20, 1965. The tune, written and sung by bandleader John Sebastian, went on to reach No. 9 on the American pop charts.

The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1965: Zal Yanovsky (bottom left, sporting a Beatles-inspired mop-top), John Sebastian (top left, looking a lot like the late Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek), Joe Butler (centre) and Steve Boone, wearing the T-shirt billboard.

From 1965 to 1966, the future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees (class of 2000) would score an impressive seven Top 10 Billboard singles, all featuring founding member Zal Yanovsky, who is also a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. The versatile Toronto-born guitarist (whose style was once described by Sebastian as a mix of bluesman Elmore James, Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer and Chuck Berry) would leave the group in 1967 after his infamous arrest on a marijuana-related charge, which led to his return to Canada. Yanovsky left the music business in the late ’70s to work as a restaurateur in Kingston, Ontario, a career he continued to do right up until his death in 2002. By the way, take Yanovsky’s two fine-dining establishments, Chez Piggy and Pan Chancho Bakery, out of Kingston’s historic downtown core and the loss to the city would be nothing short of catastrophic (take this as fact from me, a born and raised Kingston boy).

Next week: Guitar Hero (video game) and The Clash

“Dead Man (Theme Song)” by Neil Young


By James Sandham

Well, music lover, by the time you read this I’ll likely be far away from the sweat, heat and noise of my dear city and ensconced comfortably on the side of Lake Huron in lovely Southampton, Ontario. Yes, it’s time for that annual Canadian summer ritual: the flight to the cottage.

And just as there should be Adirondack chairs, s’mores and possibly even some canoeing to round out this classic summer scene, so too should there be a great soundtrack of easy, breezy summer tunes. I’ve started on mine already and, so far, this is what I’ve got.

*****

CURRENT SWELL – “LONG TIME AGO”

Well well, what have we here? Looks like the perfect little ditty to listen to while swiggin’ beers, kicking back and making most definite use of those aforementioned Adirondack chairs. It comes from Victoria, BC’s Current Swell, a motley crew of alt-country musicians who’ve just wrapped up tours in Australia and the United Kingdom, and are now back in Canada for your listening pleasure. They’ve got various dates booked around the West Coast – more details here.

*****

BRUCE PENINSULA – “SWIMMING SONG”

Now here’s a classic. Originally written by renowned Canadian singer-songwriter Loudon Wainright III – practically Canadian folk royalty (and the father, parenthetically, of JUNO Award winner Rufus Wainright and nominee Martha Wainwright) – this cover comes from an equally estimable band (though perhaps not quite as iconic – yet): the Polaris Prize-nominated Bruce Peninsula. As you can see, the video basically encapsulates every nostalgic Canadian summer memory you have set perfectly to music. This will be in high rotation at the cottage.

*****

BOY – “LITTLE NUMBERS”

Let’s take a little break from the Canadian content, shall we, and hop overseas to Europe, where Swiss/German indie-pop duo Boy hail from. Reminiscent of our own favourite female indie-popster, the JUNO Award–winning Leslie Feist, Boy have an infectious, upbeat sound to their melodies, and this track – the first single from their debut album, 2011’s Mutual Friends – is a case in point. Great stuff for waking up to before you head on down to the beach.

*****

DICK DALE – “DEATH OF A GREMMIE”

And then, once you actually get to the beach, what better tune than this one? A little classic surf rock never hurt anybody, amiright? Known as “The King of Surf Guitar,” Dick Dale (who is now a spry 76 years of age) is said to have pioneered the surf music style, drawing on the Lebanese and Eastern musical scales he was raised with, adding reverb and giving them a whole new sound. Our summers are richer for you, Dick Dale. Time to wax up the board and hit the waves.

*****

THE RASCALS – “GROOVIN’”

And just to wrap things up, how about this one, a perfect summer song no matter where you are. From way back in 1967, it was just one of many hits released by The Rascals. Though originally from New Jersey, the band was exceptionally popular in Canada, where “Groovin’,” along with “A Girl Like You,” “How Can I Be Sure?” and “A Beautiful Morning” all reached No. 1. Fans will be happy to know that they can see the blue-eyed soulsters perform again this summer, when they come to Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre from August 18 to 25. What a way to wind down the summer! But let’s not wish it away in the meantime. It’s only here for a little while – so soak it up!


By David Ball

Not long after original “Bandstand” host Bob Horn was fired due to his drunk-driving arrest on July 9, 1956, Dick Clark grabbed the reigns of the popular regional music variety program, seen on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV. The boyish-looking Clark, who appeared to never age and earned the nickname “World’s Oldest Teenager,” eventually pitched the show to ABC; it was picked up and began airing nationally as “American Bandstand” on August 7, 1957.

The man never aged!

As the executive producer and only host of “American Bandstand” in its 37-year existence (it is television’s longest-running variety show), Clark was responsible for introducing rock ’n’ roll to many North Americans. His show (which moved from Philly to Los Angeles in 1964) provided national exposure to countless artists of all different stripes, including: Buddy Holly, Smokey Robinson, The Doors, KISS, Danny Bonaduce (I kid you not), The Brady Bunch (I’m more of a fan of the edgier early Bunch stuff, before Peter’s puberty voice change), Dokken (I know, right?!), Alabama, B.B. King, the Beastie Boys, Prince and even Johnny Rotten’s PiL (much to Clark’s horror). Heck, even the ex-Sex Pistol frontman’s “favourite” band Pink Floyd did a song on the show.

Several Canadian acts also made their mark on “American Bandstand”: Paul Anka, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Loverboy, Corey Hart and others. Incidentally, Michael Jackson made frequent appearances, but even he was well shy of topping “American Bandstand” guest star record-holder Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, whoever that is, and his 110 performances (all lip-synched).

I’m sure he was “explosive” to people who knew who he was

Because of increased competition by the likes of “Friday Night Videos” and MTV, “American Bandstand” moved to syndication in 1987. The show ended its incredible 37-year run on October 7, 1989. The World’s Oldest Teenager died in 2012.

*****

On July 13, 1985, at 12:00 p.m. BST (British Standard Time), one of pop culture’s defining moments, Live Aid, commenced at London’s Wembley Stadium with a two-song performance by Ultravox. The ambitious intercontinental event was organized by rockers Bob Geldolf and Midge Ure in order to raise funds for millions of Ethiopians suffering from ongoing famine. London was the first of two Live Aid concerts staged that day; the other took place at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium beginning at 8:50 a.m. (EST) with a tune by someone called Bernard Watson followed by a short set by the inimitable 1960s folk singer Joan Baez.

I didn’t want to miss a single note of the star-studded 15-hour fundraiser, not even Adam Ant’s curiously generous three-song set at Wembley, so I, along with an estimated worldwide television audience of 1.9 billion people tuned in at 7:00 a.m. (EST) to the broadcast supplied via the BBC, ABC or MTV. Heck, I even recorded around 10 hours of the bloody thing on something called a VCR and I still have the VHS tapes kicking around.

Anyway, through generous donations, approximately $284 million was raised to help combat Ethiopian famine (Canadians kicked in millions for the cause). Because of his tireless efforts – including spearheading Live Aid’s precursor, Band Aid, and its famine charity single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Geldolf received an honorary knighthood.

Bob Geldolf, minus his Boomtown Rats, on stage at Live Aid

Looking at it on a purely rock spectacle level, Live Aid more or less delivered the goods, although not to the same high entertainment level as other celebrated rock festivals, such as Monterey Pop, Woodstock and the generally underrated 9-11 benefit concert. If you were to put a gun to my head, the Wembley concert marginally trumped what went down at JFK, mainly because it captured several top-of-their-game performances (Adam Ant and The Who’s sloppiness notwithstanding) from Dire Straits (at the time, Brothers in Arms was dominating  the album charts, which made the English quintet arguably the biggest rock band on the planet), David Bowie, U2, Queen, a rejuvenated Elton John, Paul McCartney (seated at a piano singing “Let It Be” accompanied by Geldolf, Bowie, Pete Townshend and Alison Moyet), and the all-star finale of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

Speaking of Queen, their six-song set is widely considered the finest one-off in rock history, and I’m inclined to agree (and this is coming from a marginal fan). The foursome fronted by the untouchable lead singer Freddie Mercury galvanized the 72,000 people gathered at Wembley for 18 mesmerizing minutes and even turned irritating radio hit “Radio Ga Ga” into a live masterpiece. In my not-so-humble opinion, Queen’s Live Aid appearance equals both Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding at Monterey and The Who on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in the ass-kicking department.

Although it occasionally lacked flow (for example, the rather soft one-two punch of Rick Springfield and REO Speedwagon) and contained some spotty performances (most notable offenders include a “sub-par” Led Zeppelin and over 22 minutes of drunken incoherence by super-trio Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood) – not to mention a couple of questionable bookings (The Hooters are at the top of the list) and an ill-conceived outing by Billy Ocean – Live Aid at JFK Stadium was fairly engaging for much of its near 14-hour runtime. Regarding Billy Ocean, I still feel bad for this guy nearly 30 years after his unfortunate Live Aid gig.

The briefly big in the ’80s British R&B singer was the poor sod that appeared immediately before the much-anticipated reunion of Ozzy Osbourne with Black Sabbath. Talk about a tough assignment! Mr. Ocean also had to sing all by his lonesome in front of 100,000 people to pre-recorded bed tracks of his two hits “Loverboy” and “Caribbean Queen.” Making matters even worse was that Ocean almost got swallowed whole by the huge JFK Stadium stage’s giant red and white backdrop curtain, one that was about three times the size of the flag that bared the likeness of Charles Foster Kane during his famous speech in Citizen Kane and 10 times the size of the American flag that General Patton pontificated in front of in a memorable scene from the film Patton. Billy Ocean, I salute you!

George C. Scott as Patton (1970)

Orson Wells as Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941)

OK, now that I got the Billy Ocean dissertation out of the way, highlights from JFK include (please forgive my personal bias): Black Sabbath; rap pioneers Run-DMC; R&B legends The Four Tops; Bryan Adams’ spirited four-song set featuring Canada’s famine benefit song “Tears are Not Enough”; The Pretenders; Neil Young airing out “Sugar Mountain” and anthem “Powderfinger”; Madonna in full-on Material Girl mode; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; lots of Mick Jagger; and Live Aid’s capper, USA for Africa’s “We Are the World.”

If you want to draw your own conclusions regarding its entertainment value, I urge you to rent or buy the generally solid, but not complete, official Live Aid four-disc box-set that came out in 2004. Actually, why not buy a copy, since the revenue reportedly goes to charity. Overall, it’s hard not to admire Geldolf’s passion and vision. Live Aid was a huge undertaking that paid off. It brought the world together for a great cause, at least for a short while.

*****

It’s time for TWIMH’s semi-regular look at the Canadian charts. Here’s a run-down of the Top 10 on RPM’s LP Chart dated July 14, 1969 (listed in reverse order, for dramatic effect)…

10. From Elvis in Memphis – Elvis Presley: I have no critique here since I’ve never heard the record, although Elvis was still in good form in 1969 and it’s before his unfortunate Las Vegas transformation.

9. A Warm Shade of Ivory – Henry Mancini: Mancini is also the film score composer of my favourite comedy series, “The Pink Panther.”

8. Tommy – The Who: Up from the previous week’s No. 13, the trendsetting transcendent genius that is the first rock opera ever never went to No. 1 in North America or the United Kingdom. In fact, The Who never had a No. 1 hit song – or album.

7. This Is Tom Jones – Tom Jones: At the time, Jones was one of pop’s hottest acts.

6. Nashville Skyline – Bob Dylan: The recording is the folk superstar’s successful attempt at country music and includes collaborations with Johnny Cash.

5. Wheatfield Soul – The Guess Who: No. 5 was also its peak, but it remains one of the best Canadian rock albums ever produced.

4. Blood Sweat & Tears: This was the band’s award-winning second effort, led by Canadian singer and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame David Clayton-Thomas.

3. Romeo and Juliet: Original Soundtrack: The soundtrack came from the decent film adaptation of the Bard’s classic directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

2. The Age of Aquarius – The 5th Dimension: The album includes the group’s hippy RPM/Billboard No. 1 hit rendition of “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” from the 1969 hippy musical Hair.

1. Hair: Soundtrack: Featuring music by Canadian composer Galt MacDermot, the timeless musical is still erroneously hailed by some as a real rock opera, but it ain’t. For a good side-by-side comparison, listen to Hair with the album sitting at No. 8.

Next week: Neil Young’s Vapor Records and The Lovin’ Spoonful

“Loverboy” by Billy Ocean @ Live Aid, July 13, 1985


By James Sandham

I’ve often said that, for a music lover, one of the best parts of summer is the almost-limitless number of music festivals there is to choose from. For the past few weeks, Toronto has been a case in point. If NXNE, Roncy Rocks! and Luminato (just to name a few!) weren’t enough for you, then the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, which just wrapped up last weekend, was right on their heels. It featured some of the biggest names in jazz, blues and beyond, as well as a healthy helping of slightly more obscure acts. Here is a small sample of some of the talent we were fortunate enough to have grace our city.

*****

James Cotton

Just listen to that voice. If you were in Toronto on June 23, you would have had the opportunity to hear it live as James Cotton laid it down at Queen Street’s Legendary Horseshoe Tavern as part of the jazz fest’s club series. A veritable master of the blues, Cotton has played harp for Muddy Waters (waaaay back, in 1954), Howlin’ Wolf (again, in the early ’50s), and even learned harp from Sonny Boy Williamson himself!  Cotton is a legend, for sure.

James Cotton – “Dealing with the Devil”

*****

Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette may be nearing 70, but man, can she still wail! Coming out of Detroit’s ’60s soul scene with a national hit as one of her first singles, it seemed like she was born to be a star. But lo and behold, she couldn’t cut a record deal and for years remained a semi-obscure act on the European festival circuit, occasionally busting out a disco single to pay the bills.

Since her 2007 release, The Scene of the Crime, however, she’s inched closer to mainstream attention and the recognition she deserves, and in 2009 she appeared at President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Celebration, singing “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Well, if you were in Toronto on June 27, you didn’t have to be the president to see her, because she rocked the park at Nathan Phillips Square.

Bettye LaVette – “I’m Not the One”

*****

Nikki Yanofsky

Nineteen-year-old Canadian jazz vocalist and wunderkind Nikki Yanofsky also graced the Nathan Phillips Square stage, laying down an 8:00 p.m. set on June 25. She truly is amazing: Not only did she headline the Montreal International Jazz Festival at the ripe young age of 12, but since then she’s managed to top both the jazz and pop charts, perform with orchestras and big bands at festivals around the world and, of course, back in 2010, she wowed the world when she performed at Vancouver’s Olympic and Paralympic Games. Not too shabby! When I was Yanofsky’s age I think my resumé was still limited to “student council rep” and “dishwasher,” with interests that included “hanging out.”

Nikki Yanofsky – “I’d Rather Go Blind”

*****

Brian Barlow Big Band with Heather Bambrick

If you listen to Toronto’s Jazz.FM91, you’re probably familiar with host Heather Bambrick and have likely heard of Brian Barlow’s big band as well. When she’s not on air, Bambrick is a member of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music (jazz studies), a teacher at Humber College and, of course, a brilliant live performer. She teamed up with Barlow’s big band to deliver “Sacred Music of Duke Ellington” at Christ Church Deer Park, a jazz fest venue that was a little farther from the hub than the rest, but definitely worth the trip up Yonge Street.

Brian Barlow Big Band – “Love You Madly”

*****

Brownman Akoustic Quartet

Finally, I’ve got to mention Toronto’s acclaimed trumpeter Brownman Ali and his Akoustic Quartet. They were performing at May on June 21 as I rode home from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Symphonic Birthday Party and though I didn’t get to step in and see the performance in full, I’ve got to say there’s nothing better than being out on your bike in the summer, the streetlights hazy in the humidity, while the sounds of an accomplished jazz trumpeter wash out from the bar and onto the street. It’s just one of many moments – and many more to come – that make the summer festival season so memorable. If you haven’t heard this guy’s work, then check him out. And get out to a festival! Things are already gearing up for the Beaches International Jazz Festival, which runs from July 19 to 28. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Brownman Akoustic Quartet – “Four”


By David Ball

If Trooper, Kim Mitchell or any other homegrown talent synonymous with this great country is headlining a big all-day outdoor party in a town (or open field) near you, it can only mean one thing: It must be Canada Day!

Hope you enjoy hanging out with family and friends, eating lots of good food (usually of the barbecue variety), enjoying hearty samples of your favourite adult beverages (I recommend supporting some of our fine local/craft breweries and wine from British Columbia, the Niagara Region, Prince Edward County and Nova Scotia’s Jost Vineyards), listening to lots of maple-themed music (my soundtrack will include usual suspects Stompin’ Tom, Neil Young, The Guess Who, Oscar Peterson, Gordon Lightfoot, Arcade Fire, Joni Mitchell and perhaps some k-os) and capping everything off with some fireworks, hopefully aimed into the sky (unlike the celebration I attended a few years ago at a park near Gravenhurst, where round after round of multi-coloured fireballs were inadvertently shot into a gathering consisting of children, their parents and retired vacationers, scattering the Canada Day revellers like it was a Second World War bazooka bombardment). And don’t forget to say hello to the mosquitoes!

*****

Filming for the movie Carny wrapped in Hollywood, California, on July 1, 1979. This was the first major project for Canadian Music Hall of Famer Robbie Robertson after the official breakup of The Band in 1977; the influential guitarist co-wrote, produced and co-starred in the low-budget feature.

The transfer for the official trailer looks shaky for some reason, but is still good enough to make me want to revisit the movie.

Although Carny underachieved at the box office in 1980, reviews were generally decent upon its theatrical release. However, over time the film (which is about manipulative carnival operators – that is, “carnies”) has achieved cult status and features standout performances by Robertson (in his acting debut), Jodie Foster and Gary Busey (the once-respected actor is appropriately cast as an evil clown who ends up hooking up with 18-year-old Foster). Regarding Robertson’s portrayal of Patch, the film’s antagonist, AllMovie states that the Toronto-born musician “displays a cool charisma.”

Theatrical one-sheet from 1980. Perhaps the subpar reception was the result of seeing Gary Busey in a creepy clown-face on a big screen?

Robertson’s name is attached to over 20 movies, most notably as a music producer in several seminal motion pictures by Martin Scorsese (including Raging Bull, The King of Comedy and The Departed). He also composed the score and contributed songs for Any Given Sunday and appeared with The Band in the important Canadian-themed rock documentary Festival Express. His only other acting role is in the decent Sean Penn–directed flick The Crossing Guard.

*****

While every American celebrated Independence Day back on July 4, 1985, Bryan Adams also had reason to whoop it up – because this was the same day that “Heaven,” the third single from Reckless, made it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Six singles became big hits off of the Vancouver-raised rocker’s 1984 landmark album, but only “Heaven” reached the top of the American pop charts. Count me somewhat shocked! The power ballad, written by Adams and longtime collaborator Jim Vallance (and apparently heavily influenced by Journey’s “Faithfully”), was his only single released during the 1980s to reach No. 1 in North America.

If I were assigned the task of ranking the best power ballads of the 1980s (note: this is not a hint to my employers), “Heaven” would certainly land in the Top 10, rivalling April Wine’s almost-forgotten 1981 gem “Just Between You and Me” and besting other contenders, such as Night Ranger’s one-hit wonder “Sister Christian” and the aforementioned Journey song. Everything ever released by Chicago bassist turned easy-listening balladeer Peter Cetera, the other “Heaven” by Warrant, plus 1980s wedding reception waltz and high school dance favourites by Whitesnake, Poison and Cinderella need not apply.

*****

“Hey You” by Bachman-Turner Overdrive peaked at No. 21 on the American pop chart on July 5, 1975. The no-nonsense hard-driving single, written and sung by BTO co-leader and guitarist Randy Bachman, proved to be the final Top 30 Billboard hit for the popular rockers hailing from Winnipeg.

Bachman jamming with co-leader, bassist and singer Fred Turner

“Hey You” (reportedly written about Bachman’s former Guess Who partner Burton Cummings) fared far better in Canada, topping the RPM pop chart in June 1975. Given BTO’s string of bestselling albums and sold-out arena tours, it’s surprising that “Hey You” proved to be the second and final Canadian No. 1 during the band’s six-year incarnation (the other No. 1 of course is “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”).

Speaking of Bachman…

Exactly 24 years after “Hey You” peaked on the Billboard Hot 100, Bachman 2.0’s “She’s So High” maxed out at No. 3 on RPM’s weekly pop chart on July 5, 1999. Of course, the Bachman 2.0 in question is none other than Randy’s son, Tal Bachman, whose only big hit single from his 1999 eponymous debut (co-produced by Bob Rock) thrust the Winnipeg-born singer-songwriter on to the international stage for a good two years.

Written and sung by the younger Bachman, the punchy power-pop track was also successful south of the border, where it cracked the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 15 and became the American industry rag’s No. 1 hit on its adult contemporary chart. The single’s popularity helped land Bachman guest appearances on “The Tonight Show,” MTV and MuchMusic, and it went on to win BMI’s prestigious Song of the Year Award while earning the Vancouver Island resident two JUNO Awards in 2000.

On a related note, a straight-up cover of “She’s So High” by Norwegian “World Idol” winner Kurt Nilsen was Norway’s No. 1 single in 2003. I’m not sure what Tal thinks of Nilsen’s inoffensive version, but Nordic pop fans sure loved it, making the ultra-slick pop song one of Norway’s biggest selling singles to date.

Nilsen’s album title was not inspired by Led Zeppelin I

Next week: Live Aid

“She’s So High” by Tal Bachman